In view of our discussions on memorials and the flag, I believe today's
ZNet Commentary is appropriate.
A Fourth of July Commentary
By Howard Zinn
In this year 2000, I cannot comment more meaningfully on
the Fourth of July than Frederick Douglass did when he was
invited in 1852 to give an Independence Day address.
He could not help thinking about the irony of the promise of
the Declaration of Independence, of equality, life, liberty
made by slaveowners, and how slavery was made legitimate
in the writing of the Constitution after a victory for "freedom"
over England. And his invitation to speak came just two years
after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, committing the
national government to return fugitives to slavery with all the
force of the law.
So it is fitting, at a time when police are exonerated in
the killing of unarmed black men, when the electric chair
and the gas chamber are used most often against people
of color, that we refrain from celebration and instead listen
to Douglass' sobering words:
"Fellow citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am
I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those
I represent to do with your national independence?
"Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural
justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence,
extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring
our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess
the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings
resulting from your independence to us?
"What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I
answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days
of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is
the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your
boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness,
swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and
heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted
impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow
mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and
thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity,
are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and
hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would
disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the
earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are
the people of these United States at this very hour.
"Go and search wherever you will, roam through all the
monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through
South America, search out every abuse and when you have
found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday
practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for
revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America
reigns without a rival...."
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